Future Reflections Convention Report 1997, Vol. 16 No. 3


"What's All the Fuss about Mr. Magoo?"

by Julie Hunter

Reprinted from POBC News and Views, the newsletter of the Colorado Parents of Blind Children.

From=20the Editor: By far one of the most painful tasks of a parent of a blind child is that of trying to help the child cope with others—especially other children's—attitudes about their blindness. There isn't a blind child—including and sometimes especially those with partial vision—who hasn't experienced some level of teasing about their eyes and vision. Sometimes it is relatively mild, arising out of ignorance and thoughtlessness. But it can too often turn into painfully cruel teasing and taunting.

But whether thoughtless, or deliberately cruel, the potential for damage to a child's developing self-esteem is very real, and it's a rare parent indeed who doesn't agonize with and for the child when—not if, but when—such incidents occur.

Every parent who has gone through this, therefore, should be concerned about the following report on Disney's plan to revive an old partially blind cartoon character, Mr. Magoo. Here's what Julie Hunter, the parent of a blind daughter and a leader in the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children has to say about the damage this can do:

Have you seen the headlines? "Advocates For the Blind Blast Mr. Magoo Push", reads an article printed recently in the Wall Street Journal. Yes, the National Federation of the Blind is protesting the Christmas season release of a Disney movie resurrecting the character of Mr. Magoo. Many of you will remember the cartoon character conceived by Disney animators in the 1950's. Mr. Magoo was a nasty, stubborn old man whose personality was based loosely upon that of W. C. Fields. However, the humor in the cartoon episodes was primarily derived from situations involving Mr. Magoo's extreme myopia. For instance, in one cartoon feature, "Ragtime Beat", Mr. Magoo mistakes a bear for his nephew, Waldo, and tells the bear to "Get yourself a new coat. You're disgraceful!" In typical fashion, Mr. Magoo makes ridiculous assumptions based on what little he sees as he fumbles through life.

Walt Disney Studios recently finished filming the non-animated Mr. Magoo movie starring Leslie Nielsen, and the National Federation of the Blind is up in arms. There is concern that the general public will see Mr. Magoo's buffoonery as the norm for severely nearsighted people. Will the stupid antics of this old sour-puss translate into laughter on the playground when a child with low vision bumps into something? Will negative assumptions be made about a blind person's competence in traveling? Some say that sensitivities are running too high and that we all need to be able to laugh at ourselves. Indeed, it is likely that most blind and visually impaired people have one or more stories to tell about mix-ups or misunderstandings that have happened to them due to their blindness about which they have later laughed. In fact, I would venture to say that many of us, blind or sighted have at least started to say "Excuse me" to an inanimate object bumped from behind. But, we maintain our dignity and self-respect by choosing when, where, and to whom we reveal our foibles. Laughing at ourselves is healthy, but creating jokes from a stereotype can be hurtful. In the early days of television, radio, and movies prejudices against racial, ethnic and other minority groups was common. The "drunken Indian," the "thieving Mexican," and the "lazy black man" appeared in cartoons and films for decades until those groups made it clear through political clout and consumer influence that the blatant stereotyping had to stop. Now the blind and their supporters must do the same.

Mr. Magoo is a severely visually impaired man who reveals no blindness adaptive skills. He is not representative of the blind population. Although on one level the audience understands that he is a caricature, on a deeper level Mr. Magoo's antics may foster doubts about a blind person's ability to function independently, and that is no laughing matter.